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Darren Clarke forced to delay 500th Tour event after injury

By Karl MacGinty

A day of sensational scoring feats at the Qatar Masters, ranging from a fantastic opening albatross by Steve Webster to spectacular hole-outs by Ernie Els and John Daly at 18, yielded only pain and frustration for Darren Clarke.

The 2011 British Open champion, due to tee it up for the 500th time on the European Tour in Doha, was forced to withdraw yesterday with a chest muscle injury.

Plans by European Tour officials to make a special presentation to Clarke (45) on the tee were shelved.

Clarke, who lost 40-plus pounds during a winter fitness campaign, sustained the injury practising on the range at Doha after Tuesday's Pro-Am. Hopes that his condition might improve overnight were dashed early yesterday morning.

He next plays at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles in three weeks' time as he switches his focus to the US PGA circuit. Clarke's 500th European Tour appearance will be in April's Masters, while he's not scheduled to play this side of the Atlantic before May's BMW PGA.

Webster, 47 last Friday, landed the European Tour's second albatross in three weeks when he holed-out from 254 yards with his five-wood for a thrilling two at his opening hole, Doha's par-five 10th.

The Englishman eventually signed for a seven-under 65 to share second with Dawie van der Walt, one behind another South African, George Coetzee, who had an eagle at 10 and finished with a hat-trick of birdies for a 64.

It's high summer in South Africa and their golfers are in hot form, with Thomas Aiken and Branden Grace shooting 67 to ease alongside Els in eighth on five-under.

Els holed-out brilliantly for birdie from a greenside bunker at 18, while Daly, who led football's Gordon Strachan, Chris Coleman and Andy Gray, to the team prize in Tuesday's Pro-Am, chipped in for birdie from the rough short of the final green for his 67.

Michael Hoey had six birdies in a satisfying 68 that kept him on track for a sixth Tour win, while Simon Thornton and Damien McGrane were the only other Irish under-par after both shot 70.

Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley was two-under after just three holes, but bogeyed three of his final seven holes for a one-over 73.

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